Tough winter, slow spring, but a great early summer flow

The winter of 2013/14 is perhaps the coldest winter I have ever experienced in my life. Bees in the area were hit hard. 60% of the colonies in Ontario did not make it Relentless cold temperatures meant very few cleansing flight days till April.

hives after the ice storm

hive covered in ice

By the end of April this was our only viable colony left. A few other colonies made it into spring, but there populations were to low to reproduce. They were not in great shape though. No cleansing flights meant lots of dysentery in the hive to clean up. Below is the small cluster of survivors on April 21st.

They did have a lot of honey left in the nuc adapter box, as well as the top warré box where they were clustered. So as they spring nectar flow started, we harvested the honey left in the nuc, and added in warré frames containing honey from their neighbour hive which did not make it through the winter. Thus the transition from langstroth to warré was complete. In retrospect it probably would have been better to have removed the transition box before winter, or have insulated it better. It wasn't designed with the same thickness of wood as the rest of the hive, and I believe it did not help conditions in the hive over such a cold winter.

Where the cluster finished the winter, and started to raise brood was on a frame that was only about half worker cells, and one of the adjacent combs didn't have any worker cells. I suspect this further slowed their spring development. It also suggests that I need to be more strategic when using natural comb in anticipating where the cluster will end up in the spring.


queen on brood frame

We moved the brood box to the bottom, and tried to place more appropriate comb near the brood nest as best we could. They expanded the brood nest upward by late may, and it was the middle of June before they had 5 frames in the second box and one below.

view of brood box from top

By the end of June the population was starting to look a little more reasonable. 

bees covering comb in box

With solid patches of brood:

Comb mostly covered in capped brood

They were starting to fill in what space was left around last falls honey in the top box, it was hot,  a strong flow was on, so we decided to add a new box. We were eager to take advantage of what we feel is probably the best time of year for comb building, and wanted to reorganize them onto a more compact brood nest. We tried to sort the best brood comb into the bottom two boxes with 6 new frames for them to draw. We moved combs that were not primarily worker comb to the new box in the 3rd position with two new combs to draw.

Our Next check was July 11th. Perhaps we were a bit hasty with adding the new box, or at least it was too soon to intersperse empty frames into the brood nest. There was loads of caped honey in the top box, and some new white white wax:

but in the bottom box there were no eggs where capped brood had hatched and the new combs were not significantly built. There was a fair bit of pollen though and still a bit of capped brood.

They had prioritized comb building a little more in the second box, and we did see some eggs in here.

new comb

3rd box had a fair bit of brood, but some capped honey and nectar up her too.


One thought on “Tough winter, slow spring, but a great early summer flow

  1. Yanis

    Hey there, thanks for posting all of this info for other beekeepers to read. I'm new to beekeeping and planning on starting my two warre hives with 5 fram nuc transition, resembling the transition box that you use. I bought nucs over packages thinking this would give my hive populations an early season boost. Anyways, thinking ahead, I'm hoping that I can get my transition box off of my hive while leaving enough honey for my bees to make it through winter. I think it's important to have the quilt box and normal warre top on the hive before winter. I'm really interested in your thoughts on the feasibility of this. Will the hive progress fast enough in one season for this? I'm basically waiting for the nuc frames to be only capped honey and relatively no brood right? Or are there other considerations to know the timing is right? Furthermore, I spoke with the nuc supplier and he recommends not eating the honey from the nuc, probably been treated with chemicals, hard to say what chemicals, he did seem like an organic/purist type like myself. I'm wondering what I should do with that comb and honey, I'd rather not let it go to waste....


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